The WSCL Blog

News and information about WSCL's Classical Music Programming

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Just Opened, January 23, 2015

Today we focus on a new set of Beethoven Quartets from his "middle" period, and have a trio of excellent "recital" CDs that introduce us to breathtaking talents.

Cypress String Quartet
AVIE 2318 (3 CD set)
ISBN#8 22252 23182 3
My Delight of the Week!  This CD is part of a series of recordings by the Cypress String Quartet of Beethoven's quartets.  For some, the early quartets are too sweet, and the late quartets too challenging or dramatic, so these should be musically "just right" for Goldilocks!   If you look up the reviews of this CD, you will notice that there are many contenders in the landscape, some of them established favorite big names.   As usual, the critics weigh in with a wide variety of reviews, and perhaps that wide variety of opinion is a testimony in itself.  The Cypress String Quartet has been steadily advancing its international reputation for musical excellence, and this series of recordings are getting them noticed for their musical elegance.  

Katrina Szederkenyi, harp
MSR 1527
ISBN# 6 80585 15272 0
This CD is the unmistakable calling card of a seasoned musician with technical prowess.  Fugues are not for the faint of heart, neither for the performer nor the listener, so I suppose you could place this CD in the "serious music listener" section.  (I generally don't hold much truck with the phrase "serious music" - since it means completely different things to different people, but the selections here hit almost all the meanings.)  I am, unfortunately reminded of a music director I worked with whose mantra was "why labor for that which doth not please?"   The title, of course, does forewarn us:  Fantasias are often ponderous and Fugues can be melodically challenging and/or inaccessible. While these selections require incredible precision, technical dexterity, and demonstrate the kind of musical proficiency of a Franz Liszt (indeed, one of the works is by "the Franz Liszt of the Harp" Elias Parish-Alvars), few of them are particularly melodic or listenable.  (Even the Parish-Alvars is less melody driven and more Wagnerian, and he is generally known for having the showmanship and melodicism of Liszt as well as the skill.)  So -- it's not for everyone, but Szederkenyi is a recognized professional for whom this is a demonstration of her mature, experienced, deft musicianship and dedication.  Not only does this include a meritorious new composition for solo harp, the complete program is one of unusually high scholarship.  While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, it could well become one of those recordings that is studied and referred to in Conservatory & Music School setting for years to come.  This definitely marks Szederkenyi as an accomplished musician on the rise to keep your eye on.

Tien Hsieh, piano
MSR 1531
ISBN#6 81585 15312 3
It is worth starting with the fact that one reviewer has called Hsieh's recording of Beethoven's C minor Sonata "the best recording ever made" - in a crowded field!  Another reviewer called her "a formidable virtuoso and magnetic performer" whose "color, texture, and attention to detail make you sit up and take notice." Much like the harp CD above, her Fugue is mentioned as an indication of her musical precision and "voicing."  And much like the Cypress Quartet above, when a young performer takes on musical territory that has been recorded by - not just the best in the world today, but the best in the history of recordings, the quibbles and comparisons of reviewers can be mind numbing, but certainly Ms. Hsieh must take comfort in being compared on some works as second place to historic recordings of Van Cliburn.   The interesting program choice of a focus on transcriptions makes much of this program more accessible than the harp CD above, and also gives reviewers a lot to chew up ("I prefer Busoni's transcription to Liszt"   "why did she choose THIS transcription"), but the comments on both the high quality of the recording, and of her musical accomplishment and bravura is where they all agree in unison.  Wow!  Congratulations to an artist we are sure to hear more of.

Contemporary Works for Trumpet with....
Amy Schendel, trumpet
MSR 1536
ISBN# 6 81585 15362 8
MSR Classics is a label with a special interest and affinity for CD collections of new works by new composers, often for brass or other instruments which may not always be given the solo spotlight.   This leads to a few CDs that can be particularly trying, and others, like this one that are surprisingly accessible, given that the compositions are all "new."  One feature that makes many of these works "work" is that many are based on classical (or Baroque) structures that give even new works a form we can internally recognize, that helps us understand the work in subliminal ways that make them easier for us to understand on both a conceptual level and in consequence, on a musical level as well.   The focus on brass also makes it accessible to many who think they "don't like classical music."  If you like to extend yourself to new music, this one is a very easy reach.

Join us next week for more new releases, Just Opened.
Kara Dahl Russell

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Suggested sites

This week, I have 2 informational websites to recommend that relate to pieces we've played:

Yesterday I played a Concerto by Salieri followed by a work of his contemporary and sometime nemesis, Mozart.  This website is like a multimedia research paper... it explores the life and music of Salieri (with soundclips, too), with special emphasis on the mythology of the Mozart/Salieri relationship, esp. regarding the Requiem:

Click here to learn more about Antonio Salieri

Today we aired Beethoven's Eroica Symphony... famously dedicated to Napoleon, then - so the story goes - in one of his (frequent) piques of temper, he crossed out the dedication and renamed it "Heroic."   Just as frequently, Beethoven took a few months and then, his temper having cooled, he reconsidered his words of anger.  In this case, he regularly, throughout the remainder of his life referred to this work as his symphony "for Napoleon."

Click here to explore the Beethoven/Napoleon interaction.

If you are a history buff, as I am, historical information and discussions only add to the appreciation of the music.  Enjoy!

Kara Dahl Russell

Friday, January 9, 2015

Just Opened, January 9, 2015

As we return to our new release program for the new year, we "Start with Mozart."  (Which is also our after the news at noon theme this month.)  Rachel Barton Pine celbrates Mozart's January 27th birthday with a new release of his violin concertos.

Complete Violin Concertos
Rachel Barton Pine, violin
Matthew Lipman, viola
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Sir Neville Marriner, cond.
AVIE 2317 - 2 CD set
ISBN# 8 22252 23172 4
Just in time for Mozart's birthday, and in tune with our focus on Mozart to start the year, this 2 CD set of musical excellence, from billboard chart-topping violinist Rachel Barton Pine.  Mozart's 5 violin concertos and the violin and viola Sinfonia Concertante (with violist Matthew Lipman in his recording debut).  Pine created her own cadenzas for these works, and in keeping with today's multi-media focus, her cadenzas are available in sheet music, "The Rachel Barton Pine Collection."  Pine was one of those "infant phenomenons" who began playing at 3, and performed her first Concerto at 10...  this is the stuff that outstanding international careers are made of.   In addition to her talent, she is known for her love of musical research and the liner notes on the CD are enlightening.  Special thanks to Crossover Media for suppling us with some promo give-away copies of this CD which we'll announce when we receive them later this month.

Zuill Bailey, cello
Lara Downes, piano
ISBN# 0 34062 30025 9
This CD presents an informed collection of  interesting combinations of works by modern era composers, in some cases referencing each other.  Bernstein's work "For Lucas Foss" is teamed with his Cello Sonata and another "For Aaron Copeland."  Foss's "For Lenny" is paired with his "Capriccio for Cello and Piano,"  and Barber's Sonata is paired with one of his songs in transcription.  It makes for great programming - references intertwining within the names of the pieces and musical allusions make this great music to entertain the mind as well as soothe the spirit with modern melodic romanticism.  While it has become a joke that almost every instrument in the orchestra says it "is the closest to the human voice"... the cello is the one of which it is most often said, and here we have it speaking with intellect and depth in the hands of a master, accompanied by a great Steinway artist.

Thompson Brass Ensemble
Barbara Bruns, Fisk organs
MSR 1481
ISBN# 6 81585 14812 3
My Delight of the Week.  In works ranging from Buxtehude and Bach to Humperdink and Hovhaness, the variety of selections take this program of works for brass and organ far from the usual dust covered fare for that combination.  Instead we have an entertaining program that you'll want to reach for again and again.

Next Friday I'll be on vacation, and we will not have Just Opened, just... great music.  Just Opened will return on January 23rd, featuring a new multi-CD package of Beethoven String Quartets!
Kara Dahl Russell

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Just Opened Dec. 19th - Welcome Yule!

We have a mix of new releases that will take us into the New Year, and Christmas releases from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir & Sursum Corda.
Zalaznik's Official Site

with the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra
Hinko Haas & Maria Hens Serena, pianos
ISBN# 3 760035 68055
My Delight of the Week! The musical variety of this CD is captivating.  She started recording for Slovene national radio as early as the age of 9, and has followed the path of great music schools and awards.  In addition to solo and chamber works, Zalaznik Matos has been a regular member of the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra for 8 years.   Both Paganini and Mozart are a special musical interest for her, demonstrated on this CD, which is dedicated to her father, who died in 2013.  This combination of heartfelt personal dedication, musical scope and performance excellence made my choice this week easy.

Sibelius Symphony No. 2 &
Wagner Overture to Tannhauser
Andris Nelson, Music Director
BSO 292
ISBN# 8 28020 00292 3
BSO homepage
Nelson's first CD with the BSO is the evokative music of Sibelius.  As many of you know, fewer big symphonic releases are being made, so here you get to indulge your orchestral craving and support a major orchesta.   Sibelius' music is said to be like a sleighride across the fiord, and here this major work is paired with Wagner's majestic Tannhauser overture.

Choral Favorites for Christmas
Sursum Corda
Lester Seigel, cond.
MSR 1485
ISBN#6 50585
Official Site for Sursum Corda
This 20 member vocal ensemble has been singing together since 2006 and receiving accolades since their inception.  This CD or both popular and traditional religious Christmas favorites also includes 4 movements of Marc Antoine Charpentier's "Mass for Christmas Midnight" which lends them even more gravitas and musical beauty. The singers are all highly, individually accomplished, and their conductor Seigel has led the BSC Concert Choir in performances in Austria, the Czech Republic, and at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. His choral music is published by Oxford University Press.  Those are, of course, the credentials, but the timeless exquisite music is the reason you'll want to remember this one.

CHOPIN - 24 Preludes
Alain Lefevre, piano
ISBN# 7 74204 92872 8
Official site for Lefevre
He began playing piano at 4, began lessons at 5, and at 6 years old, he wins the 1st Prize at the Canadian Music Competition and gives his first recital at the Grand Théatre in Quebec city.  Canadian pianist Levevre has the kind of career that Liszt established as a goal for musicians.  International travel and acclaim, performing with the best orchestras in the world, having won a handful of international prizes along the way.  So here he turns to solo piano works from one of the most introspective and personal artists ever to write for piano, Chopin.   The CD notes give some insights into the way artists can and do approach these large volume collections of works, both musically and historically.  Lefevre's performances of many of these are considered ground-breaking, but these pieces are so much an intrinsic part of piano repertoire that even that kind of re-thinking merely becomes another mode of making these works of the intensely personal Chopin even more personal - foundational romantic works for the self expression of an artist.  In this case, an accomplished mature artist.  The collection of deep, intense romanticism is rounded off with a crisp wafer - a baroque Sonata Cantabile by Antonio Soler.  Being a devote of Chopin myself, I can only express joy in hearing another great "take" on these essential works.  Recordings like this of Chopin solo works are a timeless gift that will carry on through the year.

Alfie Boe and
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir
MTC 1327 (2013)
Official site of Mormon Tabernacle Choir
By now, many of our listeners will have heard and seen "Home for the Holidays" both last year and this year on local PBS stations.  Available in both CD and DVD formats, this CD was provided to WSCL a few weeks ago.  The long history of musical excellence and high production standards of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and guests is now so depended on that we can sometimes overlook this national treasure.  This CD is available through their website, along with a great wealth of their other musical offerings, past and current.

Merry Christmas to you!
Kara Dahl Russell

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Just Opened, Friday December 12th, 2014

Great Music for Christmas comes in many forms and styles.   Today we have Renee Fleming's jazzy new release with a lot of crossover guests, Steinway Artist Jeffrey Biegel's piano Christmas CD, and some all-season baroque music that sits well during the holidays and all year 'round.

Piano Music for the Season
Jeffrey Biegel, piano
Steinway & Sons 30005
ISBN#0 34062 30005 1
The Official site for Jeffrey Biegel
My Delight of the Week.  Jeffrey Biegel is a favorite of mine, incredible talent, boundless enthusiasm, a lover of traditional works and great supporter and performer of new works - all that, and a very charming, engaging person as well.   We have recently aired his more current Steinway release, "A Grand Romance" that focuses on large and small salon gems.  This is 2011 release that we had not previously received here at the station, and we are grateful that he (and Steinway) were willing to add it to our library this year, just in time for you to hear it and add it to your timeless collection.  For many, they want Christmas music, but don't always want the distraction of voices and lyrics.   This collection of beautiful arrangements of traditional favorites for piano is sure to be a much desired stocking stuffer - supplying the seasonal joy and the "simplicity" of piano excellence. 

Baroque Band
Garry Clarke, harpsichord (and Art. Dir.)
ISBN# 7 15131 91522 9
Baroque Band's Official Website
In 2008 Baroque Band became the first-ever resident orchestra of WFMT classical music station (and national supplier of programs for classical music stations like WSCL).   Not to be confused with the musclebound American football star, British composer Maurice Greene lived from 1696 - 1755 and along with Haendel, was one of the most important musical figures in English music of the 18th century.  He had been appointed to every major musical post in England before the age of 40, but today is known mostly - if at all - for his choral music.  This is a rare recording foray into his orchestral overtures and solo harpsichord works.  The "old-timey-ness" of Baroque music suits the season well when one is tired of the better known Holiday fare, and will continue into the new year with ease.  What a lovely way to renew a musical acquaintance.

Renee Fleming (and friends)
DECCA 21104
ISBN# 0 28947 86770 8
Fleming's official website
I can hear my commercial agent in L.A clucking his tounge and saying of this CD, "Renee Fleming is destroying her brand!"  While most WSCL listeners would rather hear Fleming singing great areas and very traditional arrangements of great seasonal works for "great voices," to be fair, Fleming has been branching out in jazz crossover for a while, and this is just another example of it.   Working with "above the title" big names of jazz and folk crossover, she gives a saucy spin on traditional Christmas favorites, and throws in
a few other pieces as well.  Wynton Marslais, Gregory Porter, Kelli O'Hara, Rufus Wainwright, Brad Mehldau, and Kurt Elling are her musical co-conspirators who bring you this urban and urbane take on "Christmas in New York."  Realistically, Fleming is at the stage of her career where she HAS to "mix it up"... she's still lovely, but she most likely won't be playing the little mermaid Rusalka again, and she has the name, the clout, and the fan base to explore other parts of her musical interests.  Opera singers notoriously flop at singing pop and jazz, but Fleming is more versatile than most and utilizes the molasses richness of her lower register to fine indolent effect. This is probably not going to be on the Christmas list for the hard-line Classical Music lovers, despite Fleming's presence, but for many, this will be a new facet of Fleming that they will enjoy, and will undoubtedly be another selection that will introduce "people who don't like Classical music" to her engaging voice and presence and give them an entre to her other, more prominent body of work.

Join us next week for more new releases, Just Opened.
Kara Dahl Rusell

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Just Opened - Dec. 5, 2014

As I have mentioned, this year seems to be seeing less "Christmas Music" releases and more releases of special sets that will have a listening life much longer than the holidays.  Today we have some choices for Hanukkah giving, Christmas and Holiday music, and timeless works that make for timeless presents. 

New Budapest Orpheum Society
CEDILLE 90000 151
ISBN # 7 35131 91512 0
New Budapest Orpheum Society website
My Delight of the Week!  Anyone who loves musical theatre history will enjoy the broad spectrum of early (mostly German and German-American) theatre music by Jewish artists.   That focus makes this two CD set is a natural for Hanukkah gift-giving as well.  A fascinating look back into the music from both sides of the ocean as well as the new-immigrant experience, essential roots of Broadway.

Frank Voltz, harpist
ISBN # 6 35759 17282 3
 Official Website of Frank Voltz
 Frank Voltz is one of those musical wunderkinds who plays organ, piano, and harp, performs regularly on all of them, composes, and ... as showcased on this CD of pedal and lever harp, he arranges traditional works in ways that are often exciting and always engaging and entertaining.  This is Christmas harp music the way people dream of it, and hope for it to fill their holiday, a perfect stocking stuffer.

Andrew Rangell, piano
ISBN #0 34062 30038 9
Some bio tidbits and info. on recital performances of this CD.
Solo piano works speak to the soul like few other musical mediums, and the works of Chopin speak to the inner life like few other composers.  Andrew Rangell has had a magnificent career, and shares some of these heartfelt Chopin pieces in his most recent (of many) Steinway and Sons release.

Jonathan Cohler, clarinet
Rasa Vitkauskaite,  piano
ISBN# 7 672738 01252 5
Official website for Vitkauskaite
Official website of Cohler
Two gifted soloists join forces on these works by American Composers whose influences range from latin music to klezmer.

TURNIA:  Chamber Music 
For Stings and Piano
Lincoln Trio
ISBN # 7 35131 91502 1
Official website for the Lincoln Trio
Spanish born, French trained Turina made the most of both worlds with infectious, melodic music infused with a sense of Spanish folk tunes.   The Lincoln Trio has been garnering awards and critical acclaim, and this is sure to add to their steam - and a great way to add some musical spice to your Holiday gift-giving.

Tune in next week for more new releases, Just Opened.
Kara Dahl Russell

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How to Build a Piano - Prepared Piano

Today we talked about, and listened to John Cage's music, including 2 short works for "prepared piano."  While we gave you a definition and description of how the piano is prepared, this youtube video done by a teacher from New England Conservatory will give you an even better concept of how these sounds are achieved in Cage's work.

How a "prepared piano" is prepared. (click here)

While you are there on youtube, at the right, you'll be offered many selections of prepared piano works to listen to, and related videos.

Kara Dahl Russell


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